Wow, add this one to the Utah stack as a surprising, hard fought, late season win. While you can never really be sure what in the hell Don Nelson has going on late in the season with a terrible squad (the last time the Wolves played the Warriors, Nelly was experimenting with sitting his vets every other game or so), this game appeared to be a tilt where both squads gave a fairly healthy effort.
The first half featured some fun ball with both teams shooting right around or above .50% from the floor. Both squads were moving the ball extremely well (14 assists) without a ton of turnovers (4 and 5 respectively).
Unfortunately, things didn't go smoothly for the entire game. In the 3rd things got ugly, ugly, ugly with both teams shooting under .30% while only racking up 4 assists apiece. Thankfully for the Wolves, when the going gets ugly, they have one of the best muckers in the league: the Big Piranha.
During the 3rd, Kevin Love went for 6 points and 6 rebounds (2 offensive) on 1-5 shooting and 4-4 from the line. For the game he was 5-12 from the field while going 10-10 from the line. He wasn't in there during the 4th quarter but his rebounding (4-12) and free throw shooting (10-10) were what really seperated the Wolves from the Warriors in both categories. When you have a single player who can take that much of the brunt on 2 of the 4 factors, it's a good thing. If he can ever work out finishing around the rim and his mid-range jump shot, I honestly think he'll be the most dynamic player of this freshman class. Honestly. A world class rebounder who can get to the line at an amazing clip while being able to pass, finish, and knock down the mid range jump shot is a rare, rare thing indeed. I can't wait to see him play next to Big Al Jefferson again.
Speaking of dynamic rookies, perhaps it's on the account of being a fan of a team that once had a gigantic skinny teenager of its own, but I can certainly see what all the fuss is about Anthony Randolph. Let's start with the bad: The guy has an eFG of .303 on his jump shots. Seriously. He doesn't appear to have any special facilitation skills, he has a high turnover rate, and he can't really get his own. On the other hand, he's long, can move very well, has tremendous defensive instincts, carries a better OE than DE, and a WARP of 3.2. He is also one of those long, athletic types of players that would fit well on the Wolves in the 3 spot. He's not a Josh Smith yet, but I think that's the type of production GSW fans can look forward to in a few years from Randolph. He is the only player on that entire roster that I would like to see on the Wolves. How fantastic is this rookie class?
Moving away from the rookies, Mike Miller finally gets the all-around-player write up in the Strib from Zgoda. I'm kind of torn on this one. On one hand, Britt Robson has made the solid point all year long that a shooter as good as Miller should force a few more shots on a team with guys like Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes. On the other hand his unselfish play has facilitated ball movement and led him to the 3rd highest WARP on the squad. Granted, it's a 23 win squad but he brings more to the table than anyone not named Jefferson or Love. His play has also raised the possibility of the Wolves using him at the 2 guard next year should the Wolves land a new 1 or 3 in the draft. Hell, even with a healthy squad, how nice would a Bassy, Miller, Corey Brewer, Love, and Jefferson starting lineup look over what we have seen for most of the season? Let's throw Tyreke Evans or Ricky Rubio into that mix and see what happens.
One of the stats that we have been tracking all year is Love's PER. It's currently the 2nd highest in the league amongst rookies (1st if you account for minutes vs. Mr. Speights). There is another PER we've been keeping tabs on: Bassy's. After a god-awful start to the season he's finally back above 10. This is a pretty big deal considering he was sub-8 after 20 games, and sub-10 after 40. While there is still quite a bit of room to complain about Bassy's shot selection, I think a fair chunk of it can be chalked up to the relative lack of healthy talent on the squad and it will be interesting to see how well he plays with Jefferson back, a sophomore Love, a more-ready-to-shoot Miller, and (hopefully) a new stud player in the draft. Yes, this new player could (and probably should be) a point, but Bassy has been a solid player this year and I still find it interesting to see just how unprepared opposing fans are to see him play well. Until very recently, he was the only player on the team with a positive +/-. The guy keeps the offense going. News flash to the rest of the league: Bassy is a good player. He continues to improve and you shouldn't be all that surprised to see him play well. Regardless of his shooting, he still possesses world class quickness and handle and can get pretty much anywhere he wants to on the court. He's also just 23 years old and playing in what would have been his first season in the league had he went to Louisville for 4 years. (Of course I should also mention that he's my favorite player and I may be seeing this thing through rose colored glasses.)
Speaking of Bassy, and wrapping this thing up, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Wolves won this game in the 4th quarter by going with a 3 guard undersized lineup of Bassy, Bobby Brown, Kevin Ollie, Craig Smith, and Sheldon Williams. Kevin McHale rode this quintet with no subs and no apologies. Normally I would scoff at the idea of playing the entire 4th quarter without your best player (Mr. Love), but this lineup was clearly working and McHale rolled with the punches. If anything, it was a nice bookend to the season series with the Warriors. I don't know how many of you recall the 1st contest but it was a horrific display of a coach (Randy Wittman) being completely unable to handle simple situational adjustments. In Witt's case, this dastardly situational roadblock was something called a "zone defense". Yes, this man was a major league ball coach.
The second meeting of the year was the game immediately following Dwane Casey's revenge. It was an embarassing affair of NBA bottom dwelling. The Wolves won.
The third meeting was one of the 2 or 3 worst losses of the year for the Wolves. It was a listless affair where the club trotted out Mark Madsen against Nelly's vet-depleted squad. It was as close to absolutely quitting as the Wolves have come all year. It was also the game that was played a few hours after Papa Glen unveiled his "they really play hard" ticket offer. No one ever said the Wolves weren't unintentional masters of irony.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about McHale, this squad, and last night's game is that they came to play after that last horrible contest. They adjusted and rolled with the punches after being unable to do so earlier in the year. That has to account for something. I didn't think I would be able to point to much in terms of lessons learned after Big Al went down, but this is definitely something for the team to be proud about. They are doing right by basketball karma and hopefully their non-tanking hard play near the end of the season will be rewarded in the lottery. Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Evan Turner, Demar Derozan, or Tyreke Evans (in that order) will do the trick, thank you.
BTW: The WNBA draft is today and the Lynx have 3 of the top 15 picks. There will be a draft party at NBA City. Here's hoping the Lynx end up with Courtney Paris. Let's hope the Wolves can pair her up with another Okie stud.